A walk into the red-bricked ‘Pushpakoot’, the iconic bungalow once the residence of cricket legend Captain Vijay Hazare, in Gujarat’s Vadodara today would lead one to the visible signs of neglect and damage. A brick hallway scattered with debris and a pile of broken glass panels of teakwood doors forcibly ripped off from their frames, termites gnawing at some damp wood even as the sunlight filters through the naked window frames along the intact winding wooden staircase, leading to a cabin on the terrace under the rusting metal of the structural beams.
There is a stack of thermocol, carefully removed by the workers from a ‘false-ceiling’ panel on the upper floor of the ground plus one building and also a notice board pinned with prints of sample application forms of the Charity Commissioner’s Office and annual calendars up to year 2016– the only sign that the building was occupied until very recently.
Popular as the House of Captain Vijay Hazare – who led India to win its first-ever cricket test match against England in February 1952, ‘Pushpakoot’ overlooking Polo Grounds is on a sticky wicket.
The Charity Commissioner’s Office has awarded a contract through the R&B department of Vadodara to a Surat-based contractor to pull down the heritage boutique bungalow piece by piece and with that, also the legacy that it stands for since the era of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad –III, the erstwhile ruler of Baroda state.
Jeetendrasinh Gaekwad, great grand nephew of the Maharaja, who resides in the adjoining bungalow named ‘Padmakoot’, grew up in company of the Hazares until he witnessed the “distress sale” of Pushpakoot by the royal family to the government in 1976. Gaekwad, who interrupted the demolition process of the bungalow on September 19 and has taken up the matter with authorities, refuses to believe the claims of the Office of Charity Commissioner that the structure is “dilapidated”.
Gaekwad says that the Charity Commissioner’s office was moved into the bungalow in 1978 and continued to occupy it until 2019. “But it is evident that as part of a plan, they did not take care of the building and allowed it to deteriorate so much that when they vacated the premises, they even withdrew the security, left the windows open and allowed the structure to weaken due to moisture and mildew… It also turned into a haven for anti-social elements in the face of neglect…,” he says, pointing out that the Charity Commissioner’s Office is now running from another sprawling government building at Jail Road and they do not need a new structure or a bigger structure to run their department.
“They should let this heritage bungalow be,” he asserts.
Sharing the history of the bungalow, Gaekwad says that the Maharaja, enchanted by the European horse carriages and architecture during his visit to England, decided to build the Bagikhana (completed in 1912-13) located in the proximity and therefore, the row of the four boutique bungalows – Pushpakoot, Padmakoot, Amrakoot and Chitrakoot – to house the officers.
Spread over a sprawling plot area of about 20,000 square feet each, the bungalows also had a common garden of an additional 20,000 square feet.
Gaekwad told The Indian Express, “The four bungalows were the first experiment in boutique colonial heritage bungalows with landscaped gardens in Vadodara. The Maharaja had entrusted the task to Knox-Hill, an architect and engineer of the state, to build the Bagikhana as well as four residential bungalows, heavily influenced by European architecture… The work on the bungalows began in 1899 and was completed in 1902 at a cost of Rs 11000 for all four bungalows, including the land price. They were named so for their landscaped gardens that were a visual treat at that time.”
Pushpakoot is a ground plus one storey structure with a plinth area of 8,000 sqft on the ground floor and about 6,000 sqft on the first floor, making a total constructed area of about 15,000 sqft.
The bungalow has an L-shaped front verandah and an expansive verandah at the back. It houses four halls that were used as rooms when it was used as a residence. A stable also stood at the back-end of the bungalows where a syce looked after the horses.
Gaekwad adds that European officers who served as the head coachman, head valet, khansama (a governor looking after the Maharaja’s house), Aide De Camp (ADC) of the Maharaja initially occupied the bungalows.
“Pushpakoot was last occupied by Captain Hazare from 1940 to 1976 and during the period that the family lived here, the bungalow was known for its garden, the food that the family served at celebrations of Hindu and Christian festivals like Gudi Padwa, Diwali, Christmas and Easter… Captain Hazare’s wife, Pramila Jadhav, who belonged to the family of nobleman Sardar Jadhav in the Holkar dynasty of erstwhile Indore state, was an exceptional cook… Not only their parties but even their Gruh Pravesh was attended by the then Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad, who was very close to Captain Hazare and had even intervened in assuring their disapproving families about the interfaith marriage between Captain Hazare and Pramila maushi (aunt),” Gaekwad recalls.
Pushpakoot, like the other three bungalows, is a classic specimen and architects’ delight. It has been designed for cross ventilation and sunlight in all rooms and has insulation of exterior walls that are two-feet thick. The roof is 16-feet high with a provision for hooks to install manual fans that were pulled by attendants in those days.
The bungalow is made of fire-resistant bricks in a typical avant-garde construction of Maharaja Sayajirao III’s era. Gaekwad adds, “The bungalow also had trellis doors and beautiful Belgian-stained glass in its windows… However, the stained glass panels were removed or boarded up during the three wars India fought with China and Pakistan between 1962 and 1971 as the administration had strictly enforced black outs to avoid air bombings…”
When Captain Hazare moved into the bungalow in 1940, he served as the ADC to Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad and was the chief cricketing mentor to Prince Fatesinhrao Gaekwad II. Hazare had for his neighbours, three other officers of the erstwhile Baroda State — ADC Captain S D Gupte, Revenue Deputy Commissioner K B Desai, and Bhausaheb Khanvilkar, who managed the stud farm.
Hazare was the last occupant of the bungalow until 1976 before it was handed over to the government by the family in “distress sale” under the Urban Land Ceiling Act that was passed in the same year to “bring about an equitable distribution of land in urban agglomerations for common good”. Hazare then shifted to the Mayur bungalow in the neighbourhood and continued to live there until his death in December 2004 while his wife died in October 2005.
The bungalow was occupied by the Charity Commissioner’s Office when its jurisdiction extended over 15 districts from Nadiad (Kheda) to Sanjan (Umargaon) before the department set up an office in Surat to divide the territory in recent years.
While attempts to contact officers concerned with the Charity Commissioner’s Office were unsuccessful, sources in the R&B department said that the building continues to be in the possession of the State Legal Services Department, which has entrusted the task of building the new office to the R&B department.
The Surat-based contractor, Pearl Buildcon, has been awarded the contract following a formal tendering process, officials said.
Sanjeev Joshi, convenor of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Vadodara, says that the building does not need to be razed but should be restored.
“The structure is very much restorable and it has been deliberately allowed to decay as a planned move… The land has an unimaginable real-estate value in today’s times as it is located in the heart of the city and one can understand that there is temptation and even greed to exploit this land to monetise it. If it is so, there is enough space on the plot to even construct a new building while keeping the heritage structure intact…,” Joshi told The Indian Express.
He says the government must set an example by restoring this heritage instead of razing it to the ground. “The plot has a Floor Space Index of four, which can be used as Transferable Development Rights, as per the provisions of heritage regulations mentioned in the General Development Control Regulation (GDCR),” he points out.
The Heritage Trust of Baroda has also urged the Baroda Cricket Association (BCA) to step into the matter and convert the bungalow into a memorial of India’s legendary cricketing icon.
Sameer Khera, President of Heritage Trust, says the Pushpakoot bungalow is among the 700-800 buildings that the Trust has identified as part of the heritage conservation in Vadodara. “However, the reluctance to form the Heritage Conservation Cell and grade the structures as per their current condition is leading to a loss. It is time that public opinion is mobilised on this issue and the existing buildings are protected,” Khera remarks
Yogesh Malviya of Pearl Buildcon that received the work order from the Roads and Buildings Department to raze the current dilapidated structure told The Indian Express, says they have been tasked to build a ground plus two-storeyed building in its place. “The design and layout have been prepared and handed over by the department. This activism for the heritage building should have begun a couple of years ago when the department decided to reconstruct it; it could have helped. Now, the process is complete. We have also conducted a bhoomi puja at the site… It is only a matter of time before it will be brought to the ground,” Malviya says.
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